Whenever we travel the I95 corridor through the Middle-Atlantic states, we try to factor in the timing of our drive through Washington, DC. Gridlock in Congress pales to gridlock on the roads around this terribly overcrowded city.
I once drove all the way to a hotel in Fredericksburg from Sarasota, just so I could leave the hotel at 5:30 in the morning and slip through DC before the commuters woke up. To my surprise, when I got onto the highway at the crank of dawn, it was already bumper-to-bumper.
On our latest trip from Florida to New Jersey, we got to the outskirts of Washington on a Sunday morning, expecting that everyone was either in church or still sleeping. And we were stunned when we encountered a wall of traffic. We were driving along and suddenly everything came to a halt. We creeped along, and then traffic suddenly picked up to 60 mph. Then a half mile later, it came to a stop again. This pattern kept repeating itself all the way to Baltimore, until I recognized what was causing this stop and go movement.
At the next point of congestion, I pointed out to Sara that we were approaching an upgrade and it was slowing down the cars. Now, I don’t mean to imply that this was like trekking up Mt. Washington. It was probably only a 2% grade. But the cars still inched up the incline. Once they reached the top of the grade, the cars picked up speed as they drove downhill.
But I was still conflicted by this observation. I had to be missing something. And then, I realized the underlying problem. The residents of Washington and the surrounding suburbs are all overwhelmingly left-leaning liberals. And for that reason, they drive Smart cars, Priuses, and other high mileage cars. It’s their way of feeling good about contributing to a cleaner planet. However, in order to get the super fuel efficiency, these cars are all low horsepower, poor performing vehicles, and they just can’t handle those one and two percent grades.
With this in mind, the Obama administration came up with a solution. They added express lanes along I95 to get more traffic in and out of the city. It was part of the Stimulus Program that put Americans back to work. Well, at least it put Americans in Washington back to work. Although these new travel lanes were built with your and my tax money, the administration decided to charge a toll to travel these additional lanes. The problem was that the tariff was $8 each way for the privilege of using these shiny new express lanes. At that cost, almost no one travels them. So they sit nearly empty, while we overtaxed taxpayers sit in traffic. Traffic that could be relieved by making all the lanes available to all the commuters.
And just like Congress, there’s no chance that this congestion will ever improve.